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Classic Mini converted to electric: why it's worth £79,000 to get the best of old and new

Swind E-Classic - 1983 Mini converted to battery-electric power
Spot the difference: only the electrical socket gives away the fact that this Mini is powered by batteries

Not only was the original 1959 Mini a triumph of design and engineering, it rapidly became a cultural icon. It’s classless appeal made it popular not just as an affordable small family car, but as fashion accessory that no self-respecting celebrity would be seen without.

It did however, have one major flaw. When confronted with a large puddle, it was likely to stop. It’s ironic then, that when setting off to drive Swindon Powertrain’s prototype E-Classic (BMW’s ownership of the name prevents it being badged ‘Mini’) the heavens opened.

Ironic because the E-Classic is a classic Mini with a difference in that it’s all-electric. As far as the downpour was concerned, this was a mixed blessing. The original Mini was prone to literally ending up dead in the water, mainly due to a major part of the engine electrics being located immediately behind the smiling grille and vulnerable to a drenching.

This prototype in based on a 1983 Mini so it has the more forgiving Hydrolastic suspension rather than the unyielding rubber cones of the earlier cars. The additional 70kg of the battery and electric drivetrain also contribute to stability

The E-Classic has a purpose-built, fully waterproofed 24kWh, lithium-ion battery lying on the floor for the length of the body and spanning the rear in a ‘T’ shape. The electric drive motor lives under the bonnet where the engine used to be and produces 80kW, equivalent to 107bhp and considerably more than the measly 34bhp of the original 848cc petrol engine used at the Mini’s launch in 1959.

It’s enough to propel the E-Classic to 60mph in 9.2 seconds (compared with about 27 seconds for the original) and on to 80mph.

Swindon Powertrain managing director Raphaël Caillé says: “The battery and powertrain are all engineered specifically for the car and is completely new. It shouldn’t be confused with some conversions on offer using components from dismantled electric vehicles.”

The detailing is excellent, as you'd expect for your £79,000. The electrical socket replaces the original petrol filler capand there's no exhaust pipe, otherwise it looks just like any classic Mini

The E-Classic has undergone 10,000 miles of testing and the electric powertrain complies with international technical standards. 

From the outside it’s impossible to tell the difference between the E-Classic and a conventional Mini, except for the lack of an exhaust tailpipe poking from under the rear bumper.

Inside, it’s a different story as a large faux transmission tunnel running fore and aft in place of the usual flat floor houses the lion’s share of the battery. The front seats are specially made to fit a space that’s slightly narrower than usual due to that battery installation, but finished in a soft, good quality black leather and closely resembling an original period bucket seat. 

The original car's distinctive central speedometer has been retained, although it houses digital internals

The interior feels snug and enclosing, the battery tunnel creating the same kind of environment you would find in a rear-wheel drive sports car of the day, like an MGB or Jaguar E-Type.

Turn on the ignition and the large Smiths speedometer at the centre of the dash flickers into life thanks to updated digital internals. The gear lever is now a simple selector for forward and reverse and there are only two pedals, just like in a conventional automatic. Otherwise, the E-Classic is virtually silent, until the accelerator is pressed and then it takes off briskly with a hum.

We turn on to Swindon’s soaking wet, busy streets and head off into the melee with the tiny, standard windscreen wipers valiantly trying to keep the screen clear with only partial success. The one-sided battle between the wipers and the deluge neatly highlight an important aspect of Caillé’s original concept.

The authentic period look and feel are augmented by these toggle switches nesting in the beautifully trimmed interior

He says: “I wanted to keep it as a Mini and avoid disturbing the essence of the basic car, especially the driving feel. It is a classic car and it’s important it stays that way.”

Despite the originality, aspects of the conversion improve on the original. The E-Classic is based on a 1983 Mini City 1000 and equipped with the more forgiving Hydrolastic suspension rather than the unyielding rubber cones of the earlier cars. Even so, the Hydrolastic design is normally pretty firm by modern standards but in this case the ride feels improved due to the additional 70kg of the battery and electric drivetrain.

The E-Classic is fitted with the original 10-inch Mini wheels but still handles rougher surfaces well. The Mini’s legendary ‘roller skate’ cornering ability is, if anything, improved too thanks to the low-slung position of the battery and motor. Another plus is the boot space, which has increased due to the removal of the redundant fuel tank (although, obviously, it is still not huge).

The Swind E-Classic does the whole Swinging Sixties thing during a visit to the capital

Unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors produce maximum pulling power from a standstill, so acceleration is more than brisk if you want it to be. The motor drives the front wheels through a single speed reduction gearbox which emits an authentic whine much like that of the original four-speed manual gearbox.

Apart from being completely refurbished, the suspension remains unchanged and the steering rack is the original, too. It’s a little more heavily weighted and perhaps a little less sensitive than an original Mini,however, perhaps due to the increased all-up weight.

That said, the famous go-kart-like steering response remains intact, although accelerate hard and the considerable extra power will invoke torque steer, tugging the steering wheel each way with equal authenticity.

The batteries sit along the centre of the floor and in a T-section at the rear, with the electric drive motor supplying power to the front wheels as per the original

Driving this prototype electric Mini does require some acclimatisation. Like mainstream electric cars, the motor provides regenerative braking to recharge the battery as you decelerate. The feature is so good at slowing the car, even on a steep hill, that standard factory disc brakes are only needed to bring it to a final stop but are rarely needed otherwise. For now, the feature is extremely effective if a little fierce and is being toned down for production models.

Swindon Powertrain quotes a range of 125 miles for the E-Classic and charging from flat using a home 7.2kW home EV wall box or public AC charger takes about four hours. Using a domestic 13 amp socket should take about twice that time.

Caillé says only 100 E-Classics will be built at a cost of £79,000 each and marketed under the company’s luxury brand, Swind. A dealer in Kensington is being appointed but the E-Classic can also be ordered from the Swind website. 

Sixty years on from the launch of the very first Mini, its character, sense of fun and good looks remain unmolested in the E-Classic and, best of all, it won’t stop when it rains.

Full details at the Swindon Powertrain website.

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